US House of Representatives Strives to Strengthen US Shark Finning Ban

Washington, DC—On the opening day of the 111th Congress, Representative Madeleine Bordallo (D-GU), chairwoman of the House Natural Resources Committee's Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife and Oceans, reintroduced the Shark Conservation Act of 2009 (H.R. 81). A similar measure, to strengthen the Shark Finning Prohibition Act, was passed by the House of Representatives on a voice vote in July 2008, however, the Senate was unable to take action on the bill before the session ended necessitating its reintroduction in this Congress.

In 2000, President Bill Clinton signed the Shark Finning Prohibition Act in an effort to curb the wasteful and inhumane practice of shark finning - whereby the fins of a living shark are removed and the animal is thrown back in the water to die. This legislation made it unlawful to possess a shark fin in US waters without a corresponding carcass. Unfortunately, enforcement has been hampered by loopholes in the ban and finning has continued. The Shark Conservation Act of 2009 strengthens the original ban by requiring that sharks be landed with their fins naturally attached to their bodies. Enforcement officials have stated that this requirement is the only way to enforce a shark finning ban.

In introducing the measure, Congresswoman Bordallo said, "Removing these top predators drastically changes the food web structure, marine diversity, and ecosystem health. Addressing the practice of shark finning is an imperative step toward the conservation of sharks and marine ecosystems."

Sharks are extremely slow to recover from overfishing because they mature late in life, grow slowly and have very small populations. Unlike other fish, sharks produce a handful of pups instead of a large number of eggs. Despite their biology and the increasing warnings from experts that sharks are disappearing, millions of sharks are targeted for their fins and millions more die annually as bycatch. The rising demand for shark fin soup has been cited as a leading cause of their demise.

"We look forward to working with Chairwoman Bordallo on this critical legislation and encourage Congress to act swiftly on its enactment," said Serda Ozbenian of the Animal Welfare Institute. "In 2000, Congress acted appropriately on a bill that would end this practice. Sadly, in spite of the ban, some exploited a loophole and continued finning sharks. This bi-partisan bill will close that loophole to reflect what Congress originally intended."